28 January 2016

Review: Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

Goosebump Good


I was a little apprehensive about reading Secrets She Kept, because I was one of the three judges who awarded Cathy Gohlke the 2015 Inspy Award for General Fiction, for her novel Saving Amelie. After reading a book as good as Saving Amelie, I’m always a little worried that the author’s next book won’t meet the high expectations set by the earlier title.

Well, Secrets She Kept blew Saving Amelie out of the water. Yes, it was that good. Goosebump good.

It’s a split timeline story—the modern story is set in 1972, where Hannah Sterling’s mother has just died, and Hannah finds her mother was never entirely honest with her. For starters, Lieselotte wasn’t Austrian . . . No. She was German, living in Germany during the rise of Hitler and during World War II. The past story is Lieselotte’s, during those life-changing war years. It’s not a happy story, but as we journey with both Hannah and Lieselotte, we discover what made Lieselotte the distant mother she was: the secrets she kept.

The writing, the research, the characters, the plot—all were outstanding, and it’s one of the few split timeline stories I’ve read where the past and the present stories were equally compelling. Recommended.

Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

26 January 2016

Review: The Narrow Gate by David Bergsland


I 'read' The Narrow Gate as an audiobook, so this is a two-in-one review of both the content and the presentation.

The content was excellent. The Narrow Gate is examing the trend for the Christian church to be inclusive, to welcome everyone, and pointing out that it takes more than tithing and church attendance to be a Christian. His points are well-thought out and logical, and backed up by relevant Bible quotations. I found myself agreeing with everything he said (but also being worried by some of the churches he's attended over the years).

The Narrow Gate is easy to understand yet thought-provoking, one of those books I'm sure I'll get even more from the second time around.

But no matter how good the content, an audiobook flies or fails based on the narrator. I've heard narrators take award-winning novels and turn them into something less engaging than Old Testament geneologies, usually though a combination of monotone delivery and insufficient attention to punctuation.

Fortunately, this was not a problem with The Narrow Gate. The narrator had a voice which was easy to listen to and persuasive, an important factor given the material. The only problem with the audiobook version is the inability to highlight significant passages. No matter. I can always buy the book.

Recommended.

Thanks to the author for providing a free Audible book for review.

22 January 2016

Cover Reveal and Giveaway

I'm delighted to participate in the cover reveal for Dawn Crandall's new novel, the fourth in The Everstone Chronicles:

Ta-da!


I can't wait to read it! If you haven't read The Everstone Chronicles, here is your chance:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you'd like to find out more about Dawn, you can connect with her online:

www.dawncrandall.blogspot.com
www.apassionforpages.blogspot.com
Twitter (@dawnwritesfirst)

You can also read my reviews of the first three books in The Everstone Chronicles:
The Hesitant Heiress
The Bound Heart
The Captive Maiden

21 January 2016

Review: Rescue Me by Lara van Hulzen

Solid End to Trilogy


Amazon Description

Keith is a soldier with a wounded heart.
Torie’s secrets haunt her.
Can they trust love enough to mend what’s broken?

Torie Walker is a police officer with a past she’d like to stay hidden from. Staying at her best friend’s cabin in the mountains over Christmas is just what she needs. However, when a handsome cowboy saunters into her life, she takes the risk and trusts him with her secrets.


Keith Scott is a United States Marine. Home for the holidays, he intends to spend a quiet Christmas with his family. What he doesn’t plan on is Torie Walker, a woman who mends his heart and makes him want to love again.

My Review

Torie and Keith are both damaged in their own ways, Torie through her difficult upbringing (understatement) and Keith through his overseas services with the Marines. Their respective pasts means they are both hesitant about entering into a romantic relationship, despite the sizzling chemistry between them. There is also the faith aspect: Keith believes in God, but Torie hasn’t got to that place yet despite attending church with a friend.

Rescue Me is Christian romance, but a little more edgy than some (and some readers might not like the fact that Torie’s journey to faith is implied rather than explicit—or the fact Keith becomes attached to her even without her being a believer). However, it’s definitely a clean read even as Keith and Torie explore their attraction and try and see whether they are ready to get over their respective pasts and make a relationship work.

While this was a perfectly good romance, I did miss the suspense present in the first two books in the series, Remember Me and Come to Me. In contrast, while Rescue Me promised a suspense subplot at the beginning with the mention of Torie’s father, it turned into more of an underutilised thread. However, Rescue Me can be read as a standalone novel, and anyone who hasn’t read the first books in the series isn’t going to be bothered.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review.

19 January 2016

Review: Redeeming Cade by Susan Crawford

Feel-good Romance with a Message of Redemption



Ex-con Cade McGuire is the new Assistant Director of the MidTown Rescue Mission in Oklahoma City, and he credits the mission with introducing him to God and turning his life around after his release from prison. All is going well until he meets aspiring politician Darby Phillips, whose plans for a new MidTown Entertainment District don’t include the mission.

I wasn’t convinced Redeeming Cade was the right title—most of the novel seemed to be about redeeming Darby. I’d like to have seen a little more of her spiritual regeneration, as it was never clear if she was anything more than a cultural Christian (as opposed to Cade, who was definitely saved). My only other complaint was that the ending felt too abrupt—the Kindle version finished at 81%, and we then got long samples from two other novels from the publisher (both excellent books, I might add).

Despite this, Redeeming Cade was an enjoyable feel-good contemporary Christian romance about the power of God to give us second (and third, and fourth . . . ) chances. The plot was solid, the characters were likeable and believable, and it was a well-written and entertaining read with some thought-provoking lines. Recommended.

Thanks to Redbud Press for providing a free ebook for review.

14 January 2016

Review: A Mermaid Moon by Colleen Coble


A Little Too Predictable


Mallory Davis is a widowed jewelry designer from Bangor, Maine, and the mother of fourteen-year-old Haylie. Life is hard but she’s making it when one phone call changes everything. Her estranged father calls, and she heads back to her home town to find him dead. Possibly murdered. She reconnects with her teenage sweetheart to try and find who was after her father—and who is now after her and her family.

Mermaid Moon incorporates characters and locations from some of Colleen Coble’s previous contemporary romantic suspense novels, some of which I’ve read and some of which I haven’t. This meant several of the (many) characters introduced in the early chapters were recurring characters from previous novels, which I didn’t know. I found the number of characters confusing, but this perhaps wouldn’t have been an issue if I’d read all the previous books (and read them recently. Like, not read 100+ books since).

The characters and plot were interesting enough, but I did find the story a little predictable. The identity of the evildoer was pretty obvious from the start, although the motive was less obvious (and felt almost contrived when it was finally revealed). I also guessed the other big secret long before it was revealed, which took away from the suspense. In contrast, the big mysteries were never properly answered. Why did Mallory run away? (I didn’t find the reason given convincing.) Why did she marry so quickly after leaving?

I was also puzzled by the scene with forensic artist Gwen Marcey, ironically the only minor character I recognised. Gwen is the heroine of the excellent Gwen Marcey thrillers by Carrie Stuart Parks, yet there was no acknowledgement that the author had “borrowed” characters from another novel. Surely she had--it seems beyond coincidence that two authors would imagine a character with the same unusual name and almost unique occupation. A strange puzzle which unfortunately distracted me from the main plot.

Overall, I found Mermaid Moon to be a solid suspense novel, but lacked the spark of originality I’ve seen in some of Colleen Coble’s earlier novels.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

12 January 2016

Review: A Reluctant Melody by Sandra Ardoin


The Best Kind of Historical Romance


It’s 1892 in North Carolina, and Joanna Stewart is a young widow with a secret and a reputation. The gossip-mongers in town accuse her of doing away with her husband, as there was little love between them. Now she’s being romantically pursued by her stepson (who is six years older than her), figuratively pursued by Kit Barnes (who wants to buy her house) and physically pursued by Liam (who is blackmailing her around her secret).

Kit regrets his youthful mistakes—especially Joanna—and his past battles with alcohol, which was a contributing factor to said youthful mistakes. He wants to buy Joanna’s house to establish a mission to help people fight the demon drink, but first he’s got to convince her he’s a changed man. And then he’s got to convince himself he’s not interested . . . this is a romance. No prizes for guessing whether or not he succeeds!

I thought both Kit and Joanna were great characters. They’ve made their mistakes in the past, and Kit in particular has turned his life around with God’s help. A Reluctant Melody is clearly Christian fiction, in that the spiritual aspects are as important as the romantic, but it’s never preachy—the Christian elements fit within the plot without being forced. The minor characters are also excellent, and add significantly to the plot and to the suspense.

The one problem with A Reluctant Melody was that the characters, especially Joanna, kept secrets from the reader as well as from the other characters. This added to the suspense as I wondered what Joanna’s big secret was (hey, it’s always good for character to have secrets. It makes them interesting). But this also made it difficult to get completely into Joanna’s head, as it felt as though by holding back from her secret, she was hiding part of herself or lying to herself.

I’d classify A Reluctant Melody as historical romance with touches of suspense, and it was the combination of exceptional characters and the suspense subplot (and the twist) that lifted this novel above average, at least for me. But then all my regular readers know I’ve got a soft spot for romantic suspense! Recommended.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review.

7 January 2016

Review: Jacqueline by Jackie Minniti

Outstanding Historical Novel for Children


Amazon Description

When ten-year-old Jacqueline Falna hears her mother's scream, she is unaware that the axis of her world is about to tilt. Her father's plane has been shot down by German fighters. In the midst of poverty, food shortages, air raids, and the grinding hardship of daily life under Nazi rule, she forms an unlikely alliance with David Bergier, a twelve-year-old Jewish neighbor who poses as her cousin after his family is "relocated" by the Nazis. When Rennes is liberated, Jacqueline meets an American soldier and becomes convinced that he has been sent to reunite her with her father. Based on a true story, "Jacqueline" is a tale of family, faith, unusual friendships, and the resiliency of the human spirit set against the backdrop of occupied Rennes in 1944. With the drama of fiction and the authenticity of personal history, "Jacqueline" is both a story about family and a family's story.

My Review

Jacqueline is a unique story, because it is based on a real person, the Jacqueline for whom the author was named. I’ve found novels based on true stories often don’t work, perhaps because the author is too concerned for remaining faithful to the truth and forgets that fiction writing has to be about the story. Jacqueline doesn’t make that mistake: it works well as a story.

This could be because of the conflict inherent in the plot. Jacqueline is a twelve-year-old French girl living in the town of Rennes, in German-occupied France in World War II, a time and place where people survived under incredibly difficult circumstances. The story is narrated from Jacqueline’s point of view so does gloss over some of the issues a girl of her age wouldn’t have been understood, which is appropriate for a novel aimed at children.

Jacqueline is an engaging character, and the author brings her to life along with her mother, their Jewish neighbours, and a stray one-eyed cat. It’s an excellent story, and also a way of introducing children to the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust in an age-appropriate manner. Recommended.

Thanks to Anaiah Press for providing a free ebook for review.

For More Stops On The Tour, Click Here.

5 January 2016

1 January 2016

Review: The Peacock Throne by Lisa Karon Richardson

Unimpressive Christian Regency Romance



I love Regency romance and I love adventure stories and I love non-US settings. The Peacock Throne had all these things, so I should have loved it, yet I didn’t. Why not? It started well, with the two main characters brought together by murder: Lord Anthony Danbury’s father and Miss Lydia Garrett’s cousin.

There was a lack of romantic tension. I never got the impression that Lydia was interested in either of her potential suitors (although it was a nice touch to have two men interested in one lady, rather than the more common “other woman” plot).

And I guessed the identity of the evildoer too early, which raises another point: I felt the whole rationale behind the adventure plot was a little strained, and the Christian content was subtle to the point of being almost non-existent (although that’s not a bad thing: it’s better than a novel where the characters stop to sermonise each other every chapter).

The characters were interesting, there were plenty of exotic locations, but the indifferent writing and lack of pace at what should have been exciting moments made this an easy book to put down, even at what was supposed to be the climax. While I didn’t dislike it, nor did I feel engaged with the plot or the characters, and it was a struggle to finish.

If you’re looking for a historical adventure novel with foreign settings, I’d recommend you read Christine Lindsay or Rita Stella Galieh instead.

Thanks to Lion Hudson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.